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Age-Forward 2030: A New Vision for the Future

Ann Oldenburg October 23, 2019
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An urgent call to action offers a roadmap to an era of economic growth, inclusion and resiliency.

The process of aging often involves looking back. That’s definitely not the goal at the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging and it’s new Age-Forward 2030 report. Instead, it’s all about looking forward to create the best possible environment for healthy aging. They say now, right now, is the time to plan and act.

Just as the World Health Organization has declared 2020-2030 the “Decade of Healthy Ageing,” the Milken Institute is presenting a new and ambitious vision for a future of aging better: Age-Forward 2030, a report being unveiled at Milken’s Future of Health Summit, happening October 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

Age-Forward 2030 is a call to action to create a better future by employing cross-sectoral policymaking to help communities prepare for an older, increasingly diverse, and economically stratified population.

Think of it as a ramped-up, revved-up age-friendly game plan.

Cities Are Ground Zero

“The objective of this report is to create a road map,” says Paul Irving, chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging. “Our hope is that we’ll see these things adopted, advanced, scaled and employed in many more communities. The concepts are consistent: How can leaders view older adults as a human capital asset, as our only growing natural resource?”

He adds, “Instead of aging as a burden, a negative development, think of it as engaging people in commerce. That longevity economy will manifest itself in different areas. We hope to see new ideas flourish and see those adapted to the cultures and needs of society.” 

The Age-Forward 2030 report, co-authored by Caroline Servat and Nora Super, identifies three priority areas for city and community commitment: Economic Development, Age-inclusive Design and Resilient Networks.

These priories—culled and developed with the guidance of nearly 150 subject-matter experts—promote inclusion, resilience, age-friendly innovation, technology solutions and civic engagement—all with an urban focus.

“Cities are really Ground Zero for this demographic shift,” explains Irving, noting that eight in ten U.S. residents 65 and older already live in metropolitan areas. By 2030, according to the United Nations, three of every five people globally will live in cities. Urban consumption growth will be on the rise in developed countries. “So, our objective is to challenge mayors, council people, those who look at this from a county and neighborhood perspective—larger and smaller entities—to react more quickly,” he says.

Meet city leaders where they are today, with an eye towards the realities of tomorrow, the report says.

Focus on Commercial Districts

To encourage and enhance economic development, Age-Forward 2030 advocates for age-friendly commercial districts, with attention on accessibility and services. It calls for spurring economic growth through job creation and workforce opportunities for older adults, as well as support for older entrepreneurs and investment in industries serving older people.

Over half of all urban consumption growth will be generated by the 60+ population in developed countries by 2030. The report recommends using data like this to show the value of age-friendly programs, helping to change policy and expand engagement. It also calls for innovative public-private partnerships that can help realize the potential of older adults.

Reimagine Housing Options

As the senior living industry works to appeal to and accommodate older people, Age-Forward 2030 reinforces the need to remodel existing infrastructure toward new and different, non-traditional living environments.

The report calls for more multigenerational housing and attention to diverse lifestyles, cultural norms and abilities. The number of renters over age 65 will double between 2010 and 2030, according to the Urban Institute, so flexibility in dwelling units also need to be a focal point to accommodate big increases in non-homeowners.

Tama Duffy Day, a principal at Gensler, a global design and architecture firm, says of today’s 60 and 70-year-olds: “They’re eschewing living and community situations that make them feel otherwise and expect to continue living life to the fullest.”

Community Connections Matter

Resilient networks are a crucial element of the Age-Forward 2030 program. What does this mean? Essentially, it means that older adults need to stay connected to and engaged in their communities to thrive.

“Older adults should have access to systems that are responsive to the individual as a whole—not idiosyncratic system parts based on their funding source, the administering agency or the local oversight entity,” says Dr. Bruce Chernof, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. Any city planning or funding that shares a person-first, as opposed to a program-first or problem-first, perspective, he says, has the potential to “re-imagine aging.”

Between 2015 and 2035, the number of people 75+ who live alone will nearly double—to 13.4 million—with the majority of them women, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. The Age-Forward 2030 report endorses incentives as a way to created person-centered and integrated care—especially for people like these who may be in marginalized areas or who have complex needs.

Connected, person-centered care may require experimentation with economic models, governance structure and technologies—including tapping the potential of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to transform and strengthen programs and community networks that enhance security, increase independence and add to overall well-being. One starting place the report proposes is for programs to bridge digital literacy gaps; another is the employment of better emergency preparedness strategies.

Across all three priority areas, what’s really needed is a change in how we view older people. The report says policy solutions need to emanate from seeing older adults as community assets and neighborhood change makers.

“The redefinition of aging is something that affects all of us,” says Irving. “Unlike race, gender or political belief, aging is the thing we all have in common, we all have a stake in improving. And not just the culture, but improving environments for aging. Since we all have a stake in this, what can we do for the current generation and for our kids?”

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Ann Oldenburg

Ann Oldenburg, who started her career at The Washington Post and was a longtime culture writer at USA Today, is assistant director of the Journalism Program at Georgetown University. An advocate of lifelong learning, she is a member of the first cohort of Georgetown's new Aging & Health master’s program.

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